Innsbruck, Austria – Mirwais, an Afghan asylum seeker has been in the country for four years. He is now one of many there, living in fear of being deported.
“If the authorities deport me, my life is over … The centre of my life is here,” said the 32-year-old Kabul native, who speaks German well and has been working as an interpreter in Austria.
He is worried about a recent European Union deal with Afghanistan, which could see an un unlimited number of Afghan refugees being deported soon. In exchange, Kabul’s government is to receive $15bn from the EU over the next four years.
Although the agreement does not mention exact numbers, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees could be deported in the near future.
Following a deal between the EU and Turkey, the movement of refugees to Europe has slowed considerably.
According to government statistics, Austria received nearly 25,000 asylum applications from Afghans in 2015. As of September this year, less than half that number – 10,000 – have applied for asylum.
In March, a leaked document revealed that the EU is planning to deport at least 80.000 Afghans whose asylum requests have been rejected.
In the same month, the country’s Interior Ministry of Migration launched a campaign in Afghanistan, urging Afghans to be better informed before deciding to go there and warning that “human smugglers lie” and that “without an income, you can’t relocate your family”.
Fearing the ‘next bomb’
With his asylum application being rejected three times, Mirwais might be among the new wave of deportees – his lawyer has told him that his future in Austria is precarious and that he he might be forced to leave.
“The authorities told me that Kabul, my home town, is safe enough for living,” Mirwais told Al Jazeera.
“Living in Afghanistan is dangerous. I don’t want to be killed by the next bomb. Many friends and family members of mine have already been killed, just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
Ahmad, 23 is in a similar situation.
“I arrived in Austria six years ago. Since then, my asylum requests have always been rejected,” said Ahmad, who has so far applied twice for asylum. The chances of subsequent applications succeeding are slim.
Should he get deported, Ahmad would be forced to return to his home province Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan, where heavy fighting between Taliban fighters and security forces is currently taking place.
Tarinkot, the provincial capital, was captured by the Taliban in September.
“My whole family is still in Uruzgan. I have no other opportunity than going back. But how do European authorities justify deportations in such war zones?” asked Ahmad.
Ahmad and Mirwais are among the second largest refugee group after people from Syria. Before the war in Syria began, people from Afghanistan were the world’s leading refugee group.
According to the UN’s refugee agency , at least 40,791 Afghans arrived in Europe by sea, landing in Italy, Greece and Spain, between January and August of 2016.
Many Afghans are still fleeing a war with escalating civilian casualties. UN figures indicate that civilian deaths have reached a new peak since the beginning of the census in 2009. Between January 1 and September 30 of this year, the UN recorded 2,562 conflict-related civilian deaths and 5,835 injured.
A third of the victims were children.
Fighting is not limited to the countryside – the Taliban carries out regular attacks in Kabul, which also saw an ISIL attack at a Shia shrine on the day of Ashura.
Double refugee crises
As the country is facing the challenge of accepting its deportees, Afghanistan is also facing the crisis of a growing number of interally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing violence within its borders – some 3. 7 million are living in IDP camps around the country.
An additional 2.5 million unregistered Afghan refugees are also facing deportation from Pakistan, where the authorities see them as a “security threat”. Iran has also been deporting Afghans over the land border.
“It’s always easy for these politicians to talk about a country where they never have been,” said Fardeen, 24, an Afghan refugee who has lived in Innsbruck for five years.
“There is no doubt that Syrians are granted asylum very quickly although their country is facing war just since a few years. Afghanistan is in war since more than 35 years but we have to fear deportations. I don’t understand this logic,” said Fardeen.
Fardeen’s asylum application has been rejected twice by Austrian authorities. And after the signed agreement between the EU and Afghan government, he fears deportation more than ever.
“I cannot sleep well. I have heard stories how the police came for refugees without any warning and sent them back to their countries forcefully,” he said.
Like many Afghans, Fardeen is angry at Kabul’s political elite. Families of leading Afghan politicians live abroad. The children of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, for example, live in the United States – but were also born there – while the family of Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, lives in India.
“How do these people dare to decide about our destinies? And how can they be taken seriously?” Fardeen asks.
According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is among the most corrupt countries. In the NGO’s 2015 index, the country was on rank 166, just outranked only by Somalia and North Korea.
Fardeen believes that inequality is Afghanistan’s main problem.
“The rich will always find a way out. But it’s us, Afghanistan’s poor majority, who are doomed. Nobody would care about us if we were deported and killed by the next bomb,” he said.